Category Archives: Forgiveness

2 Samuel 12

A Forgiven King

Discussion Question

What has the grace of God taught you?

Background (Context)

A familiar pattern in the Bible is unfolding again in the book of 2 Samual. God gives and establishes something great, but the sinfulness of humanity puts a huge question mark over whether God can really succeed. Israel is in the promised land with a good king who loved God and leaned on God for wisdom and understanding. Yet, even David acted out in shameful sin. Will sin ever be taken out of the picture in God’s plans!?

God had made a great promise to David in Chapter 7. That his kingdom would never end. But he also promised that when the king does wrong, God will punish him with harm inflicted by human hands.

David sinned in Chapter 12. He did more than take fruit from a tree but the same principle applies. He saw something that was not his and he was lead to believe that he must have it. Then he tried to cover up his sin so that nobody would be any wiser. He would save face before all of Israel and still be the good king that everybody believed him to be. There was no mention of God in chapter 11 until the very end when we read: “But the thing David had done displeased the LORD.”

Read 2 Samuel 7:18-29

12 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9 Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’ ”

13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”

15 After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. 16 David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground. 17 The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.

18 On the seventh day the child died. David’s attendants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, he wouldn’t listen to us when we spoke to him. How can we now tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.”

19 David noticed that his attendants were whispering among themselves, and he realized the child was dead. “Is the child dead?” he asked.

“Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.”

20 Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.

21 His attendants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!”

22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 23 But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

24 Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and made love to her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The Lord loved him; 25 and because the Lord loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah.  

26 Meanwhile Joab fought against Rabbah of the Ammonites and captured the royal citadel. 27 Joab then sent messengers to David, saying, “I have fought against Rabbah and taken its water supply. 28 Now muster the rest of the troops and besiege the city and capture it. Otherwise I will take the city, and it will be named after me.”

29 So David mustered the entire army and went to Rabbah, and attacked and captured it. 30 David took the crown from their king’s head, and it was placed on his own head. It weighed a talent of gold, and it was set with precious stones. David took a great quantity of plunder from the city 31 and brought out the people who were there, consigning them to labor with saws and with iron picks and axes, and he made them work at brickmaking. David did this to all the Ammonite towns. Then he and his entire army returned to Jerusalem.

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Nathan tells a story (1-6)
  • What the LORD said to the murderer (7-10)
  • What the LORD said to the adulterer (11-14)
  • The death of the child (15-23)
  • The birth of Solomon (24-25)
  • Another victory story for David (26-31)

Nathan tells a story (1-6)

“The LORD sent Nathan to David…” This is an act of grace! We finished Chapter 11 hearing that what David did displeased the LORD and the next thing we read is that God reaches out to David. God does not abandon his relationship with David. Like a Father to a son, he does not discard David but approaches him. Discipline is not abandonment. We don’t know much about Nathan except for the few stories that he is in but that he was a good prophet to king David. One of David’s sons is even named Nathan! David had approached Nathan for advice in Chapter 7 when he wanted to do something for God. Nathan is now used by God to send a message to the king.

“When he came to him, he said, “There were two men…” How does Nathan approach the king of Israel to tell him that the king has sinned. How does one rebuke a king? You tell him a story! The power of a story is illustrated in these verses as David is drawn to announce his own guilt. It’s not until Verse 7 that we hear the words that the LORD had given to Nathan to speak. Whether the story of the two men was a creation of Nathan or a message from God, we can only imagine. Perhaps Nathan was taking the announcement of sin from God and wrapping it in a story so that David would hear it. The fact is that the whole bible is a story given to us so that we can come to admit that we are not better than Adam or Eve or David and that we all need a Saviour.

“David burned with anger against the man…because [the man] did such a thing and had no pity.” Nathan has lead David to the right conclusion. David has become outraged against a fictional character and is ready to be told that this is exactly what David has done. He acted selfishly, destroying the lives of others and, in the end, showed no pity. Remember his words to Joab in 2 Sam 11:25. Casualties were just par for the course.

“As surely as the LORD lives…” Christians are stereotypically accused of being hypocrites. Well, we are. We quickly judge others but forget that we are guilty of the same or perhaps worse. David declares guilt upon a man in the name of the LORD. As readers of this story we see right through David and want him to see the error of his ways and to change.

What the LORD said to the murdering adulterer (7-14)

“You are the man!” Nathan is now able to deliver the full blow of the powerful, confronting, condemning words of the LORD to David who is able to hear them and be ashamed.

“This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says…” For the first time in this story, we hear exactly what the LORD wishes David to hear. It is not simply a story left for David to interpret but the blunt truth that he has sinned in an amazing way and it’s time to be served. Note that He is described as the God of Israel which, I’m sure David would understand, is a higher rank to king of Israel. Nathan is not outranking David, he is simply passing on the message he was ordered to give. Preachers and Christians do not have higher authority in themselves but stand charged to deliver news from the Creator of all mankind.

“I anointed you…I delivered you…I gave…I gave…I would have given you even more.” The first point from God to David is that He has given so much to David and would have even kept on giving. I can recall the scenario in the garden of Eden that everything on the planet was given to Adam and Eve and who knows what the potential for the future held to a couple who would love God and love one another. But they took the one thing that was not theirs to take. How important it is to cultivate thanksgiving into our daily routine! Coveting, envy and greed have no place in our lives – but they are there aren’t they?

“Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes?” When we sin, we don’t simply do something wrong, but we despise the One who gives us life and words to live by. We do what is evil to the LORD and therefore show contempt for Him. Sin is always relational because it is against the LORD that we always sin.

“You struck down Uriah…with the sword…therefore, the sword will never depart from your house.” David’s first crime dealt with is the crime of murder. He organised for another man to be killed for self gain. The consequences to David will be that he will no longer look forward to retirement from the sword. This is not prescriptive of how God deals with our sin in this life but descriptive of how he dealt with David. We are able to listen in on this incident and see how our God acted justly in responding to David’s guilt. The eye for an eye principle is being followed in spirit if not literally. It is true that Deuteronomy 22:22 says clearly what should happen to David, but God is dealing particularly with David – the king of Israel. We’ll hold our breath for now and listen to the rest of the discipline being placed on David’s house.

“…and took his wife…took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.” The second crime dealt with is the crime of adultery. In David’s case, he really took Uriah’s wife completely. But it began by taking her for one night as if Uriah did not exist. God was prepared to keep on giving to David but David felt a need to take something that was not his.

“Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you.” God had promised David that his kingdom would never end. Because of this promise, the penalty would not be the removal of David’s kingdom. But that didn’t mean that his household would be an oasis. God’s promise was to chastise the kings of David’s kingdom like a Father disciplines a son. The promise suggested that this would start with Solomon but it did not need to wait until then. David will be the first king of God’s kingdom to live through the consequences of sin. This account of David’s fall very much resembles that of Adam and Eve. They did not die on the spot, as the penalty implied, but received mercy to live the rest of their lives (and still die) but looking daily at the consequences of their sin – even for one of their own children to kill another. David will watch the calamity on his household and know that he had deserved it.

“You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.” See 2 Samuel 16:22.

“Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”” After David’s righteous outburst against the rich man in Nathan’s story, he now only says, I have sinned against the LORD. No excuses. No elaborating or placing the blame. This is a response that we want so many of our friends and family to make. Yet it is most common for people to blame their circumstances, or even God (the woman you put here!) David says exactly the right amount of words: I have sinned against the LORD. It’s similar to the words that Jesus would put into the mouth of the prodigal son in his parable about forgiveness. We are not victims of our circumstances. We are sinners who need to confess that in our heart and before God.

“Nathan replied, “The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.” Why doesn’t David need to die? Because the LORD has taken away his sin. This is the tremendous gospel of this account. The sin is not swept under the carpet. The consequences have already been explained and we are yet to meditate on the death of the child born. But the promise from the LORD to David is that his kingdom will never be torn away from him (2 Samuel 7:15) as it had been to Saul (1 Samuel 15:23). The grace of God is based on his promises and not on our merit or deserving. David did not deserve to receive such mercy. But his sin has been dealt with by the LORD. David does say more on his confession or reflections in Psalm 51 (also Psalm 32).

“But because…you have shown utter contempt for the LORD, the son born to you will die.” See earlier comments regarding sin being always about contempt for or despising the LORD. David did not only commit the sins but he then covered them up and called them of no matter. I will reserve more on the death of the child for the next section.

The death of the child (15-23)

“…the LORD struck the child…” We will not take from this that all children who become ill and die are a result of someone else’s sin. The Pharisees had this same error in Jesus’ time and were corrected for it (John 9). Just as Joab said to Abishai, “The LORD will do what is good in his sight.” The story in Chapter 12 does not teach us to have no care for a dying child since we look at the grieving of David who knew full well why it was happening. It does not tell us that we ought to expect such harsh treatment from God as a result of our sin either because this is a unique story about the unique character of king David. The message is that David’s sin caused trauma in the household. It will be tempting for a Bible reader to be confused about the mercy of God when this innocent child is punished, but the LORD gives and the LORD takes away – blessed be the name of the LORD (Job 1:21). On the flipside, we might remember that the gift of children is not something we must presume upon either (1 Samuel 1-2).

“The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up…but he refused…he would not eat…the child died…David’s attendants were afraid to tell him…” The sorrow of David and his pertitioning of God through pleading and fasting, night and day, seemed like a mystery to his attendants and elders. They saw it purely as grief and despair when in fact it was an endeavour to change the mind of the LORD. When the child died after 7 days of illness, the attendants feared that David would be even worse! If he grieved so much while the child was alive, how much more once the child is dead. While David is the guilty one in this story being chastised by God, he is able to teach us something at this point. His actions are not out of despair but out of faith that God is good and hears. While the child was still alive, then there was hope.

“He may do something desperate.” They may have feared that David would kill himself or someone else! Who knows. They feared what David had already been found guilty of doing: desperately taking a man’s wife and then killing the man. Now, this repentant man gives us a glimpse into the heart of a servant of God. We readers need to know that the sin of David has been dealt with. David’s actions while lamenting and pleading were the actions of someone who serves the living God.

“…he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped…” This father worshiped God after the death of his son. To worship is to praise God for who he is. In all of life, the LORD is to be praised. David did not hold a grudge against the LORD since the LORD had done exactly as he said He would do. It is one thing to question: what are you doing, LORD? Quite another to question: what right do you have?

“Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” What a profound little gem in the Old Testament about the afterlife. David is amongst the living who cannot bring back the dead. That is a fool’s desperation. The attendants of David worried that he might do something desperate (Verse 18) but David had a rational mind toward death. The gem here is that David talks about going to his son. David will one day die and he states here that he will one day go to him. This could mean anything from “I will return to the dust like that child” through to “I will join him in heaven one day.” What he means will depend on the rest of scripture to interpret (reveal the meaning). Jesus, the true forever King, taught his disciples that he would one day see them in the kingdom of God where there are many rooms. Death, however, is a one way door. We all go through it and none of us return to advise on what happens on the other side. But we know Jesus who has returned. Our knowledge and hope for the future is not based on wishful thinking or theology born out of desperation, but on the sound report from the risen Son of God. For now, David is resolved that it is goodbye to his son until eternity.

The birth of Solomon (24-25)

“Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba…” She has been identified as Uriah’s wife for most of the past two chapters in order to underscore the sin of David who had taken another man’s wife. Now that Uriah is dead and God has dealt with the sin, she is now recorded by name and as David’s wife. It will not be forgotten forever since she is not remembered in Matthew 1 as Bathsheba but as Uriah’s wife. Our world is marred by the repercussions of sin everywhere.

“…they named him Solomon.” 2 Samuel informs us that Solomon was the second son born to David by Bathsheba. His name means ‘peace’ which points forward to what will happen in Israel under his reign rather than a reflection on the circumstances of his birth. See 1 Chronicles 22:9.

“The LORD…sent word…to name him Jedidiah.” This name means loved by the LORD. He will be known by the world as Solomon the peace bringer but the LORD will know him as loved. See Nehemiah 13:26. No earthly king can bring peace. But the love that God first shows to us through the LORD Jesus Christ, that is our only peace.

Another victory story for David (26-31)

It is sad how the narrative of 2 Samuel 11 and 12 effects the reading of the rest of David’s story. Before this, we were hearing of the great humility and dependence on God that David displayed. Now, in these final verses, we read of a king who does not sound different at all. He claimed victory where one of his commanders had done the work and he turned his captives into slaves. The changed atmosphere is striking when you compare Chapters 11 and 12 with what we read in the shortened account of 1 Chronicles 20:1-3.

 

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The LORD our God will not let sin go unattended. And yet He keeps His promises. This means that all who call on the name of the LORD will be saved! Our salvation is based on the promises of God through Christ and not by our own merits. Our world is under the curse of sin. The story of Genesis 3 recounts this and the house of David illustrates this for us now. The forgiveness of sins and the hope of the resurrection are contained in a story about David. The message of the gospel is packaged for us in the story of David’s salvation (just as David’s rebuke was packaged in the form of a sheep farmer story).

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Packaging our message. One NIV translation titles chapter 12: “Nathan Rebukes David”. But who is it that rebukes David? It is God’s word that David is rebuked by when Nathan says, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says…’ But the rebuke from God comes through the mouth of Nathan and is packaged in a story. It is packaged in a relationship already trusted by David. Nathan has permission to speak to David but it is the word of God that Nathan speaks. We can error in two ways here. We can firstly express our own distaste and disgust with people without regard to what the Bible actually says on a matter. Secondly, we can blurt out the message of God into an audience not ready to hear what they desperately need to hear. But the word of God, the truth and hope of the gospel, when packaged in a relationship and the right timing can be more effective on the hearer. Proverbs 15:23, 25:11. Nathan was right but so was his method of communication.

Topic B: The gospel is not fair. David was outraged at the wicked rich man who killed a poor man’s sheep. We too may be outraged to see how low David fell and yet his kingdom was not removed from him nor was his life. Even more so that a child was killed instead of David. Have you ever considered how unfair the gospel is? We all deserve to be excluded from God’s kingdom forever because of our contempt for the One who made us. And yet it is Jesus who dies instead of us. He was more innocent than that child of Bathsheba who died in his mortal sin. If we do not have a solid doctrine of sin then we will not have a solid doctrine of grace either. It is not fair that we despise the work of God and yet are allowed to enter His eternal rest. But it is through the wounds of Jesus that we are healed. It is for our transgressions that he was punished. The gospel is not fair.

Topic C: Good grief. David lost his child. It is a horrible story and it is difficult to shine a light on David after this. We are taught, however, some real truths about the curse of sin and how to proceed with faith. While the child was ill but still alive, David pleaded with the LORD to change his mind. David prayed with all his effort. He was not lost in despair but directed his hope to the living God. Once the child died, David ceased his petition but continued his relationship with God. He worshipped the LORD. He did not disrespect God for doing good in His sight. He also spoke of eternal hope. The reality of sin in this world is that we cannot bring people back. They are gone. But, in faith and hope, we shall see them again. David held to the promises of God, the faithfulness of God and the mercies of God. The curse of sin is real. Death is real. But God is always God. David rose and comforted Bathsheba. The pain may be present but the LORD who brings comfort to all who mourn – He is to be praised. Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

2 Samuel 11

A Failed King

Discussion Question

“People never just sin. Sin is always the culmination of several ungodly thoughts rallied together to turn something that is actually terrible into something that is enticing – and then we take it.” Discuss.

Background (Context)

David is the king over Israel as God had decreed. He was chosen by God and carried from the shepherd fields to the battlefield for the sake of God’s Name. He was a legendary warrior who God delivered time and time again. More than that, God promised to David that his kingdom would stand forever. So far, in this book, we have watched David demonstrate the kindness, mercy, righteousness and justice of the Kingdom of God. He has demonstrated what good prayer looks like, what trust in the LORD looks like and has shown us the virtues of gentleness and humility.

While we have noticed hints of David’s broken nature, such as the many wives, we come now to a new lesson from David. We will see just how broken he was. This story is almost as famous as his battle against Goliath and yet it teaches us something completely different.

Read 2 Samuel 11

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. 5 The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

6 So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. 7 When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. 8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. 9 But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.

10 David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”

11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”

12 Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.

14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”

16 So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. 17 When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.

18 Joab sent David a full account of the battle. 19 He instructed the messenger: “When you have finished giving the king this account of the battle, 20 the king’s anger may flare up, and he may ask you, ‘Why did you get so close to the city to fight? Didn’t you know they would shoot arrows from the wall? 21 Who killed Abimelek son of Jerub-Besheth? Didn’t a woman drop an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you get so close to the wall?’ If he asks you this, then say to him, ‘Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.’ ”

22 The messenger set out, and when he arrived he told David everything Joab had sent him to say. 23 The messenger said to David, “The men overpowered us and came out against us in the open, but we drove them back to the entrance of the city gate. 24 Then the archers shot arrows at your servants from the wall, and some of the king’s men died. Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.”

25 David told the messenger, “Say this to Joab: ‘Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.’ Say this to encourage Joab.”

26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Beginning: Springtime for David and Israel (1)
  • Problem: Our king did not go (1)
  • Quest: From little things big things grow (2-24)
    • One evening when idleness turned to sin (2-5)
    • The man who was more righteous than David (6-13)
    • Part 2 of the cover up (14-17)
    • Joab is dragged into the mess (18-24)
  • Resolution: Everything put back in order (25-27)
  • End: Or so it looks… (27)

Beginning: Springtime for David and Israel (1)

“In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war…” To my ears, this sounds very ‘Monty Python’ and I can imagine all the kings speaking like proper Brits and striding off to slaughter something somewhere. The reality is that the season brings better conditions for fighting and you lose men to the sword and not to the weather. See 1 Kings 20:22, 26.

“…David sent Joab out with the king’s men…they destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah.” This is only the beginning of the story where the scene is set. David’s kingdom is in good shape where his men can be sent off, with a successful commander (Joab) and win battles. The kingdom is being protected. Rabbah is mentioned as being under siege. It seems likely that this is the same city that is under siege later in the story. This will add to the sadness of this narrative even more.

Problem: Our king did not go (1)

“But David remained in Jerusalem.” The problem of this story is not that a war is on but that David, the warrior king, has stayed at home. It’s not the first time since we saw in Chapter 10 that he stayed behind while others went to battle and that was fine then. His staying behind is not wrong by definition. But the story has opened up for us to expect that something is wrong: it’s the season when kings go off to war, but our king, who is not a stranger to battles, stayed in Jerusalem. Will this result in something good?

Quest: From little things big things grow (2-24)

The main content is in the middle of the story. We flesh out what takes place when our hero stays at home. “Idle hands are the devil’s playthings” is what I remember my mother saying. We’ll look at Verses 2-24 in the 4 stages of how things went wrong and how David tried to cover it all up.

One evening when idleness turned to sin (2-5)

“One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace.” It’s evening and David was in bed. He has already retired for the night. What time this is, we don’t know, but the day is done for him. He has arisen in order to wander. There is no threat to his world right now. Even the business of the kingdom is being taken care of by others. So, his mind is active when he ought to be getting rest. The bible both commends sleep and rest because we put our trust in God and it condemns oversleep when there is work to be done. David has no work that is pressing and ought to enjoy the peace that God has brought him. Proverbs 3:21-26 (esp 24).

“From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful…” He didn’t go onto the roof in order to perve. But there he sees a beautiful woman bathing. David may already have mischief in his mind when he got up from his bed – that is uncertain – but now he has a decision to make. He has not acted in sin yet – although he has looked long enough to observe that the woman was beautiful. So he has gazed for too long. Martin Luther once said, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” You cannot keep temptation from coming across you but you can stop it from giving birth to sin. See James 1:13-18 on the movement from temptation to death.

“…and David sent someone to find out about her.” Wrong move. What could David have done right then and there? I suggest that running back inside and sitting before the LORD and talking to Him about this test. The problem, though, is that David is not giving any indication that his mind is on godly things. When we feel little need for God because of prosperity and calm, we are less inclined to lean on Him for help. The folly is in thinking that we are ever at peace with the evil one. Mark 13:33, Galatians 6:1, Colossians 4:2 1 Peter 4:7, 5:8 and Job 31:1 to do with watchfulness, sober mindedness and prayerfulness. Note also that David is moving slowly toward making this sin fully mature but there is still time for him to repent and stop his investigation. But he is standing too close to the fire. “It won’t hurt to just ask questions about her.”

“She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So now David knows that she is not just a beautiful object on a roof but that she has a name and a father and she is married. Great. Time to go back to bed. Walk away and live.

“David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her.” While sleeping with her was the final act of sin – we must see how many steps leading to this that David took. When the Apostle Paul writes to Christians and tells them to “put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed” (Col 3:5) he doesn’t mean to stand at arms reach from these sins but to put them to death. David puts fuel on the fire when he sends for Bathsheba. His imagination of what could happen is inflamed when she is standing in the same room as him. “…and he slept with her…” is not a statement that shocks us because, as sinners, we can see it coming in the story. Sin never just happens. It comes to fulfillment when we imagine something that is really quite terrible to be something that we desire and really need. I believe this is why Paul calls it idolatry. We believe that we absolutely need this when the only thing we need is trust in God.

“Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.” Her bath on the roof should not be taken as her trying to seduce the king but that she was following the Levitical law about her monthly period (Leviticus 15:25-30). Perhaps she bathed at night so as to be discreet?

“The woman conceived…” Bathsheba’s name is not used. Perhaps we are returned to the initial status of her in the story: she was just a beautiful woman on a roof to David and now she is a woman her has conceived. A night of passion is now to become a scandal. Her monthly period mentioned in the last verse means that this must be David’s child. There were consequences to this sin. He had looked and taken and thought that there would be no consequences but he was wrong.  

The man who was more righteous than David (6-13)

“So David sent word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David.” The second problem in the story is now, ‘what will David do about his obvious sin?’ His options are to come clean, to cover up, or to simply ignore his actions and call this wrong a right, this evil as good. He is in need of repenting before God and offering a sacrifice of atonement (with the real hope of avoiding the penalty of Deut 22:22). He is also in need of repenting to the husband. He summons Uriah from the battle to return to Jerusalem and before David.

“David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going.” We have the privilege of knowing what David has done and that this man ought to be angry at David. But they are able to catch up on how things are going. They talk business rather than talk about the wrong that has taken place. The greatest concern to Uriah is the events of the battle and he is led to believe that this is David’s concern also. But the greatest concern to David is his own reputation. The first part of David’s plan to avoid repercussion is to make Uriah believe that he has acted as a messenger of the king.

“Go down to your house and wash your feet.” Rather than being instructed to go back off to the frontline, he is invited to make himself at home back with his wife. The king has given Uriah some R&R.

“…and a gift from the king was sent after him.” Presumably some money or such to help Uriah feel comfortable and without worry. David is orchestrating an environment for Uriah much like David’s own status at the beginning of the Chapter. No worries and every reason to relax with your wife.

“But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace…” David’s plan fails when Uriah does not actually go home but sleeps in the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants. He would have been the only servant returning to his house – with a gift. David’s first interaction with Uriah was smooth but failed. He now confronts Uriah again.

“How could I…?” Uriah cannot fathom sleeping in comfort with his wife when the king’s men and the ark are all out on a war mission. Without knowing it, Uriah is rebuking David for his evil. What’s worse than going home and making love to your wife is making love to someone else’s! How could he!?

“As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!” How ironic is this! How could David sleep with another man’s wife. David should have had this mantra in his head all along: as long as YOU/Uriah live, I will not sleep with Bathsheba. But it is Uriah who speaks of never betraying the king’s men. He serves his lord and will not act so selfishly. Uriah is representing righteousness in this Chapter. But this level of righteousness does still not provoke David to repentance. David has another crack at covering up his sin.

“…and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah…did not go home.” If Uriah is so level headed about doing what is right then David organises for Uriah to be not so level headed! The drunkenness ought to lower his inhibitions. But Uriah’s conscience, even in a drunken state, did not allow him to go home. Unless, of course, he was too drunk to find the front door! But I think that it was his deep down conviction that kept him from going home again. The real distinction between Uriah here and David in the passage is the line that Uriah draws for himself. We are not even talking about a sin for Uriah to go home to his wife. It is more that his conviction is that he must be alert and on duty even while at home. David, on the other hand, walked to easily across any line of dignity in this story. And yet, he still goes further into darkness yet!

Part 2 of the cover up (14-17)

“In the morning David wrote…’Put Uriah out in front…then withdraw from him so he will…die.’” We can see how far David would go to cover up his own guilt and sin. The bible has done us a real service in presenting David so highly in our minds with all of his endeavours for the kingdom of God and then to show us that even a man as godly as David can go so deep into the heart of darkness. The first sin of sexual immorality was bad enough. Pride and power have brought David to murder. He has drawn Joab into the problem too. Joab has been a questionable character. He did the wrong thing in Chapter 3 and was cursed by David. He gave us a demonstration of loyalty to David and God in Chapter 10. Joab will do what David asks of him. Well, someone once said, ‘two wrongs don’t make a right.’ Adultery and now murder. But he has also misused all the blessings that God has given him to do these things. The power that he has is only because God gave it to him.

“So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were.” Let me point out how ridiculous this is. In Joab’s campaign, there was no place where the fighting was fiercest. There was a fortified city that was currently under siege. The strategy of Joab at this point was only to continue doing nothing outside the city while the inhabitants got tired or hungry etc. But, in order to fulfill David’s command, he sends troups to where the city was being defended the best. As mentioned in Verse 1, this is likely Rabbah. David is so engaged with his own personal warfare that he really is not in tuned with what is happening in the real battle.

“…some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.” To cover up his sin, he has drawn other people into his schemes and everybody around him is getting hurt. One night of pleasure has snowballed into this massive cover-up.

How men will report what has happened (18-24)

“Joab sent David a full account of the battle…” Verses 18 to 21 report what Joab planned to say to David and it was all the truth. He wanted everything conveyed and, when he pre-empted what David might say, he wanted the truth be known to David that Uriah was dead. This suggests that Joab knew what was really important for David and that everything else will become white noise to him.

“Who killed Abimelek son of Jerub-Besheth?” The little example that Joab gives of Abimelek points to Judges 9:50-54. (Jerub-Besheth is also known as Jerub-Baal who we know as Gideon). Now, this story has two layers to it. The first layer is the obvious one: Joab illustrates from Scripture that going so close to a fortified wall during battle is stupid. The story of Abimelek is the story of a dumb way to die. The second layer is more interesting: it is a little parable against David (unbeknownst to Joab) that he should never have gone so close to sin (literally on the roof of his palace) to be destroyed by a woman. He should never have gone there. When someone asks you: why did you sleep with that woman!? You can answer, I did an Abimelek. I don’t wish to make this point humorous but it explains why Joab and the writer of 2 Samuel included that speech on Abimelek. Who brought down the reputation of David? It was a woman and it is completely David’s fault.

“The messenger said to David…” What we are told in Verses 23 and 24 is a slight but important variant on the message that Joab sent the messenger to report. Although we’re told in Verse 22 that the messenger told David everything Joab had sent him to say, there was a slight spin on the retelling. Namely, a little back-story that explains why they found themselves at the bottom of the wall. From Joab, the reason was quite clear – it allowed Uriah to be killed. But from the messenger’s mouth, the story was a little more nuanced and people might believe that it was inevitable for the battle to go down that way. It is a small cover-up by the messenger to help the army save face but follows the theme of the Chapter on cover-ups. We are now at the end of the quest. We saw what David did and the events that followed to cover up what he did. The story only needs to wrap up and everybody lives happily ever after…

Resolution: Everything put back in order (25-27)

“David told the messenger…the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.” David has only learned to be cold during this episode. He is satisfied to move on as if nothing has happened and wants to encourage Joab and others to keep pressing on. His secret is safe and he has an allie in Joab. His advice to Joab is not to stay back and wait longer in the siege but to get on the front foot and end this conflict. This is not a good side of David.

“Say this to encourage Joab.” Far from the king rebuking Joab for ordering a stupid attack that ended in deaths, David wishes to give a gentle message of courage to Joab as if to say: don’t think of what has happened as evil because your king does not see it as evil. David’s conscience has been seared. He lamented over the death of Saul but has no care for the death of Uriah. He calls evil good (Isaiah 5:20).

“David had [Uriah’s wife] brought to his house, and she became his wife…” Bethsheba is not named because what is important to the story is that she is Uriah’s wife. She has lost her husband. Her husband was taken away from her – not by the hand of God but by the hand of her lord. The shepherd king has torn apart her marriage. David may want the world to not remember Uriah but the bible does not want us to forget. In Matthew 1:6 we are reminded that Solomon was the son of David by…Uriah’s wife!

“…and bore him a son.” While David would have hoped that everyone once thought this would be Uriah’s son growing up with Bathsheba and Uriah, he now hopes that the world will see it as his son, conceived after the death of Uriah. 1 Chronicles 3:5 lists the four sons of David by Bathsheba as Shammua, Shobab, Nathan and Solomon. This list is not by birth order since Solomon is the second child born to David by Bathsheba. That list in Chronicles is listed to emphasise Solomon, who everybody knew, as a child of Bathsheba, by putting his name last. We don’t know which of the remaining three was born in 2 Sam 11, but we know that the son dies (2 Sam 12:18). One of the sons of Bathsheba, however, is Solomon who will become the next king – the son of the king and of a kingdom that is promised will never fail! We will read of the consequences of sin in the next chapter.

End: Or so it looks… (27)

“But the thing David had done displeased the LORD.” David may have managed to cover up his sin for the rest of the world to know about, but as David was watching Bathsheba bathing from his rooftop, the LORD was watching David. As David summoned Uriah and drank with the man whose wife he took, God was watching. As David instructed Joab to send men to their death, God was watching. Nothing is hidden from God.

The Good Shepherd who would come a millenia later is sent by God to be the true ruler and eternal king of Israel. It is a kingdom, not leveraged off the greatness of men, but established by the only true God our Saviour who died so that everything that displeases Him can be paid for by the blood of the Messiah. In other words, the kingdom of God is a gracious and merciful kingdom established only by the righteousness of God and not by the righteousness of people. David, one of mankind’s best, was a sinner. We may shake our heads at David like we would shake our heads at the news of a murderer on TV but David, has portrayed what a good man of God looks like – mostly – until we get to this Chapter.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Sin does not simply pop in and out of our lives. It begins with a seed of wandering thoughts that are not watchful, grows into an attractive fruit that looks delicious and appears harmless. It then bites us and the sinful man or woman will proceed to cover up their sin as if it is not that bad. We adjust our expectations and consider how we can manage the situation – to contain the damage. We are fooled to believe that if everybody else thinks things are normal then we can take courage and believe that evil is ok. But none of this pleases the LORD.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Standing too close to the wall. David had a number of chances to walk away from temptation but he chose to wander, to ponder and to squander his freedom with sin. As the little analogy of Joab went: he stood too close to the wall and we all know that is a foolish thing to do. Are you standing too close to something that is likely to end in sin? Have you created boundaries for yourself to be careful around dangerous situations? David’s situation did not give anybody else reason to worry for him. He was simply being kingly. David is to blame for putting himself into danger. Bathsheba didn’t cause him to sin. Neither did Uriah. David stood too close to the wall. Where are you standing? Colossians 3:1-14 directs our paths to ponder heavenly things and so walk well away from danger.

Topic B: Sexual sin as an example of lust and lust as something broader than sexual sin. Colossians 3:5 tells us to put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature. It lists sexual immorality first and then continues with other areas of human desire. Many of the items in the list sound related to sexual immorality: impurity, lust and evil desires. But then is listed greed and calls it idolatry. Or is it calling everything in that list idolatry and greed is related to everything else as part of our earthly nature!? Lust craves to have something in greater amounts than what is needed or is allowed. Sex is not sinful but sexual immorality craves to take more than belongs to you. Living in your means is perfectly acceptable and praised by God and so money plays a part of that but greed is the lust for money and things. Jesus said that you cannot – you cannot – serve both God and money. Yet many of us fool ourselves to think that we can. This Chapter in 2 Samual leads us to look sin in the face and be serious about how we deal with it. After all, Paul tells us to PUT IT TO DEATH.

Topic C: A seared conscience. By the end of 2 Samual 10, David had made peace with his sin by normalising it. He had covered over the effects of it and, as far as he was concerned, life could go on. He failed to take ownership of his own wrong and instructed Joab and others (such as Bathsheba) to make peace with it too. He had not listened to his conscience when sleeping with Bathsheba nor lying to Uriah nor orchestrating Uriah’s death. He failed to hear any inner voice warn him against his actions. And now his conscience was seared. It is quite easy to move the lines of our own moral compass to allow ungodly things to seem ok. After all, if nobody knows about it, is it really a problem? Sexual sin, ungodly uses of our mouth (gossip, slander, lies) and the sins of envy, pride and covetousness are all easily covered over when nobody else can see what is going on. But God is displeased. Ephesians 5:10 is a good project to overcome a seared conscience: “find out what pleases the Lord.”

One last but important note: It is easy to exit a study like this an do one of two things: to not take sin seriously as if this was David’s problem and it has no real relation to me and my sin or secondly, to be overwhelmed by our sin which has been brought up in this study and feel despair because of it. I want to suggest that both are problems in the highest degree. The middle ground is to confess that we all need the LORD’s help and give thanks and praise with rejoicing that Christ has paid for our sin – as dark and nasty as that sin may be. It could be helpful to close your group time with ‘the grace’ “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2 Cor 13:14

Also read the following verses of assurance: Matthew 11:28; John 3:16; 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 John 2:1

Luke 23:26-43

The King’s future

Discussion Question

Have you ever observed an injustice and not done anything about it?

Background

Jesus has been betrayed, arrested, mocked and sentenced to death unjustly. The teachers of the law and leaders of Israel hated Jesus for preaching the kingdom of God in a way that did not paint them in a wonderful light. While they continued to accuse him with lies they persuaded the Roman government to execute Jesus on the basis of their hatred. They would rather a known murderer go free than to let this man continue to teach the people things that they did not agree with.

Read Luke 23:26-43

26 As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then

“ ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”

and to the hills, “Cover us!”’

31 For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”t And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

What did you see?

Structure

  • Carrying the cross (26-31)
    • Simon of Cyrene (26)
    • Daughters of Jerusalem (27-31)
  • At the cross (32-43)
    • Two criminals with Jesus (32-33)
    • They don’t know what they are doing (34-38
    • One criminal with Jesus (39-43)

Carrying the cross (26-31)

Simon of Cyrene (26)

“…[the soldiers] seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country…” Mark 15:21 tells us also that Simon is known as the father of Alexander and Rufus – the same Rufus, perhaps, whom Paul knew and regarded his family so highly (Romans 16:13). Cyrene is a port city in North Africa. The city encouraged Jews to settle there. A synagogue in Jerusalem, called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, was used by people of Cyrene and Alexandria (Acts 6:9). It is likely that Simon was a practicing Jew who had come from Cyrene for the Passover festival.

“…and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.” The synoptic gospels (Matt-Mark-Luke) all mention this fact of Simon being part of the suffering of Jesus. John does not include this detail in his story. It is easy to stretch the purpose of Simon’s story too far but I feel comfortable noting the involvement, in God’s sovereignty, of a man beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem and Judah taking part in the suffering of Christ. I will not make too much of this but to say that the kingdom of God is and always has been for the whole world to take part in. Perhaps the gospel writers, apart from stating what actually happened, like to include this piece of information because they know that the kingdom of God is about to go global. Luke includes, in the next section, a reminder that Jerusalem is not going to stand for much longer – it’s time will end but the gospel is bigger than Jerusalem.

Daughters of Jerusalem (27-31)

“A large number of people followed him…” This ‘him’ would refer to Jesus as the rest of the sentence makes clear. The order of procession is Jesus, followed by Simon of Cyrene, followed by the crowd, but it is Jesus as the one they are all following.

“…including women who mourned and wailed for him.” Luke 8:52 describes a similar tradition of wailers and mourners over the death of someone. Jesus is a dead man walking. But Jesus will turn the mirror back onto them.

“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children…” These women of the city where Jesus is being condemned were weeping over the unfortunate death of Jesus. They may be sincere followers, or simply women who know that this is a sad end to a good man. Not everyone in that day hated Jesus. This passage reveals the women here who mourn and later a criminal who concludes that Jesus is the King. But the representative leaders of Jerusalem hated him. Jesus tenderly warns them that it is themselves and their children that they ought to mourn for. Jesus is going to the cross as is predestined. And the city of Jerusalem will be judged for killing him. Jesus has spoken about this on a number of occasions in this gospel (Luke 11:49-50; 131:34-35; 19:41-44; 21:20-24). Jesus himself had wept for Jerusalem (19:41). The historic events of the siege on Jerusalem in 70 AD were gruesome on the people in the city. Zechariah 12:10-14 may be alluded to.

“For the time will come when you will say, “Blessed are the childless women…” Jerusalem will receive judgement from God for all of the prophets who have been killed in the past and for the killing of the Son of God. Luke 20:9-18. The Romans lay siege to the city in April 70 AD and starved the Jews. By August, the Romans took the city, destroying the Temple. It is these few months of siege leading to the destruction that Jesus directs these women to mourn. His death in imminent, but theirs is also.

“They will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”” Again, a time is coming when death will seem better than life. This is a specific event fulfilled in 70 AD and yet is a forerunner to judgement day for all humanity. See Hosea 10:8 and Rev 6:16. At this point we’ll just remember that Jesus was the Great Prophet and continues to prophecy even as he goes to the cross.

“For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” This is a lesser to greater kind of argument: if this happens when the tree is alive, what will happen when it is dead? The Son of God is physically present with the people of God in the city of God and they choose to put Him to death. Imagine what evils people will do when God is not so present and merciful. In the instance of the siege on Jerusalem, the people were driven to madness with famine. When the Romans eventually took the city, they barely needed to execute anyone because the city had been starved to death. For anyone interested, here are the records of Josephus on the seige (sections 10, 12 and 13 focus on the difficulties in the city)…

 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/josephus/works/files/war-5.htm .

At the cross (32-43)

Two criminals with Jesus (32-33)

“Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.” The scene changes with new characters introduced but they remain unnamed. They represent two types of people who will interact with Jesus and stand for two ways to live. Neither will represent godly living since they are about to die as criminals.

“…the Skull…” The location was well known in the day of Luke’s writing. With the passing of time and thousands of years of wars and construction, this landmark is up for debate. When Luke wrote the gospel, as with Matthew 27:33, Mark 15:22 and John 19:17, this was a knowable landmark. The point is that the location of Jesus’ death was known. Nobody mistook what took place that day, where or when. Neither did they mistakenly crucify Judas and everyone think that was Jesus or whatever crazy conspiracy can be imagined and believed. Perhaps the place looked like a skull or perhaps, with the crucifixions occurring there, it had the name of the Skull (Golgotha in Aramaic).

“…one on his right and one on his left.” Jesus is slain as a lawbreaker, with criminals at his side. See Isaiah 53:12 and Luke 22:37.

They don’t know what they are doing (34-38

“Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”” I love the words of JC Ryle, “as soon as the blood of the Great Sacrifice began to flow the Great High Priest began to intercede.” Who is he praying for exactly? It would be wise to keep the forgiveness here to the extent that these people are still able to repent and receive forgiveness – as about 3000 do on the day of Pentecost! They do know what they are doing, in that they are nailing a man to a cross, but they do not understand fully that they are nailing the true Messiah to the cross! See Acts 3:17 and 1 Cor 2:8.

“And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him.” A direct fulfillment of Psalm 22:7,18. The people are so ignorant of the events and yet they are all events predicted in the scriptures. The mocking of this man paints the picture of how low our sin takes us. At the lowest point in human history, we stood before the Son of God, we bowed down low and gambled for his clothing in mockery. We would rather worship material things that the One who created us. Psalm 22:8 is mimicked as they call on him to save himself.

“…God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” A tautology? The Messiah is the Chosen One. Isaiah 42:1.

“The soldiers…offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king…” The wine was cheap wine used by the poor. The soldiers were getting in on the mocking too – showing that Jew and Gentile were all against the Son of God. Their action paired with their words seem that they are bringing him wine as a servant would bring it to a king – but they mock.

“…a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” His death and his birth are both marked with mockery of this fact (Matthew 2:2). Mark 15:26 describes the sign as the written notice of the charge against him. John 19:19 informs us that Pilate had the notice placed there and John’s gospel expands on the objection that the Jews had to this sign (John 19:19-22). Jesus is being put to death for this claim. Pilate is making the Jews aware that this is the treason that he is condemned for. The Jews do not like this sign because they reject everything about it. As a reader of this event, we see the man on the cross clearly labelled and bleeding out for his people. The king of the Jews is the suffering servant. Mark 10:45.

One criminal with Jesus (39-43)

“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him…” We are back to the criminals and even ‘they’ get in on the mocking. It is the same cry: save yourself! But the reason he hangs on the cross is not because he can’t save himself but because WE can’t save ourselves! He hangs there in order to save us – criminals of God’s kingdom.

“But the other criminal rebuked him…then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Let’s reflect. Simon of Cyrene carried the cross for Jesus but he was ordered to do that and he said nothing to allow us to know where he was at (but we think kindly of him). The women mourn for Jesus and yet we aren’t sure completely of why they mourn. Do they love Jesus or are they merely weeping over the occasion? We empathise with them too but we don’t know for sure where their hearts are at. Everybody else in the story have clearly mocked Jesus and so we know where they are at. And now we come to the second criminal. He is guilty and deserves death. He confesses this clearly to his fellow criminals. But looking at Jesus he remarks that Jesus has a kingdom that he owns and that it is up to Jesus whether this man is able to enter it or not. But he asks Jesus directly for entrance. Totally underserved. Totally unworthy. But he asks. And Jesus says…

“…today you will be with me in paradise.” This means one thing for sure and opens up further questions. The thing we know is that Jesus confesses to being able to give access to his kingdom. Either he went to his death truly believing nonsense in which case Jesus is a lunatic. Or He really is the King of the Kingdom and can grant access to whoever he pleases. And now that the sacrifice has begun, access is granted. It is granted on the basis of two things. The confession of sin or the admission of guilt and the confession of Jesus as LORD. The latter is the most clear in this case. The man does not say, ‘Jesus please forgive me for my sins.’ But, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ In other words, ‘Jesus, you are the king, will you know me in your kingdom?’

The question that it opens up is that of when. When will the man be in paradise? The straight forward answer is today, but what about the concept of the dead sleeping and that they will be raised on the last day? The questions of what happens after death fall into the category of wait and see. Just as the Old Testament promised the coming king but how he comes and what he does wait and see. And those putting Jesus to the cross did not know what they were doing. When we enter the kingdom ourselves, all will be clear. It may well be that we die and enter the timeless future of eternity when the second coming has already occurred. That is one theory. See Revelation 2:7.

What did we learn?

In the midst of prophecy concerning the judgment of God coming on Israel, the people proceed to put the beloved Son of God to death. His execution was humiliating and full of mockery and yet irony also. He was dying in order to save those who would mock him. His sacrifice opens up the way for forgiveness. It will not be the self-righteous who are saved but sinners who come to the King to call Him their Lord.

Now what?

Topic A: Prophet, Priest and King. The Old Testament described and prescribed three distinct offices of prophet (one who received the word of God and spoke it in the people’s hearing for a purpose), priest (the mediator role of Aaron and the Levites to offer sacrifices to God for the people) and King (obviously the ruler of Israel). These three offices come together in Christ and we have observed them all in this very passage. His prophecy of dark times ahead for the daughters of Jerusalem, his offering to forgive through the sacrifice he gives of himself and his Kingship in granting the criminal access to Paradise at his welcome. Now, there are other facets to Jesus than this (such as wise-man) and we don’t need to force Jesus into a tick box of theology but the book of Hebrews takes this approach to highlight how amazing our Saviour is. He is better than Moses, better than the Levitical priests and he is the very Word of God who has made atonement for sins and sat down on the throne in heaven.

Topic B: What it takes to be saved. It took the compassion, patience, humility, mercy, kindness, graciousness and love of God to send his willing Son to the cross. If there were another way, the Father would have granted it by Jesus’ prayer in Luke 22:42. For us, it takes ownership of our transgressions and the confession of Jesus as LORD – as our LORD. This is Romans 5:8 and 10:9 combined.

Topic C: God is not all about love and forgiveness. While the cross of Christ shows us the love and mercy of God on us sinners, there stands the need to be forgiven lest the wrath and judgement of God fall on us. Jesus’ warning to the daughters of Israel was about the historic fall of Jerusalem, by the arm of the Romans but as the consequence of repeated rejection of God. He will not forgive everybody just because. Merciful and loving as he is, the death of Christ shows us that there is wrath to be avoided. If we do not reconcile with the Son then we have no other mediator to stand between us and God’s righteous anger. John 3:36.